The Lights That Failed

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THE LIGHTS THAT FAILED European International History 1919-1933 Zara Steiner Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. xv, 938pp. US$60.00 cloth (0199226865).

The years from the first to the second world wars have lately been the subject of attempted revisionism in that some historians argue that they constitute the 30-years' war of the 20th century. Zara Steiner's The Lights That Failed-the first of two volumes dealing with European international history from the 1919 treaty of Versailles to the Polish crisis of September 1939 - firmly rejects this revisionism. With a well-deserved reputation as one of the leading international historians of the post-1945 era> sne has poured into this book her vast knowledge of the subject. More important, she has confirmed her formidable forensic skills in analysing the interwar rivalry of European powers great and small, a rivalry that altered profound- ly not only the course of European history but, as the European powers weakened after fighting the Second World War, produced a new international constellation for the rest of the 20th century.

Steiner's argument in this persuasive analysis is that after overcoming a range of economic, financial, political, and security problems central to postwar reconstruction-a result of surmounting the weaknesses of the Paris peace settlement-the leading European powers created a new and viable international order by the late 1920s. Economic and financial questions tied to inter-allied war debts and German reparations were resolved with the 1924 Dawes plan-and, by mid-1929, Dawes was itself being mitigated by a new initiative, the Young plan. Although after 1919 the new League of Nations existed to provide collective security against "transgressors of peace," additional arrangements in the western Pacific Ocean (the 1922 Washington nine-power and four-power treaties) and in Europe (the 1925 Locarno treaty) provided the major powers with national security in Europe and its imperial variant in East Asia. Tied to these security agreements was the crucial issue of disarmament. Limiting the major naval powers' battle-fleets, a third Washington treaty also set displacement and guncalibre maxima for warships below 10,000 tons. Then, immediately after Locarno's initialling in October 1925, the League established a commission to prepare for a world disarmament conference to limit the ground, air, and, appropriating the Washington treaty, naval forces of its members. So important was the preparatory commission that even the isolationist United States and that European pariah, Bolshevik Russia, joined its deliberations.

None of this suggests that European international politics ran smoothly in the 1920s. Even after Locarno, Franco-German relations were marked by distrust and mutual suspicion over a range of political, military, and economic issues. In the first years of peace, Anglo-French differences over the German and Turkish questions had the potential to disrupt the postwar balance and, thus, European stability. Consolidation of Lenin's regime by 1921 injected ideology into international politics and brought concern in eastern and western Europe about containing the bacillus of revolutionary Bolshevism. …